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Oops

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Oops. In this hour of Radiolab, stories of unintended consequences.

You come up with a great idea. You devise a plan. You control for every imaginable variable. And once everything’s in place, the train hops your carefully laid tracks. In this episode, one psychologist's zeal to safeguard national security may have created a terrorist, while one community's efforts to protect an endangered bird had deadly consequences. And against all odds, a toxic lake spawns new life.

Guests:

Alston Chase, Michael Cohen, Edwin Dobb, Barret Golding, Ruben Gur, Rita Halbeisen, Ron Lanner, Andrea Stierle, Don Stierle, Pat Walters and Ben Zimmer

Be Careful What You Plan For

Ben Zimmer (the "On Language" columnist for The New York Times Magazine) sets the wheels in motion with some cautionary newsroom tales: attempts to avoid human error lead to editorial absurdities no one saw coming. Then, a Harvard psychologist eager to safeguard Cold War troops from brainwashing creates an ...

Comments [25]

Weighing Good Intentions

Producer Lulu Miller drives to Michigan to track down the endangered Kirtland’s warbler. Efforts to protect the bird have lead to the killing of cowbirds (a species that commandeers warbler nests), and a prescribed burn aimed at creating a new habitat. Tragically, this burn led to the death of a ...

Comments [28]

Even the Worst Laid Plans?

Soren Wheeler takes us to Butte Montana--where an open pit copper mine’s demise leads to a toxic lake filled with corrosive runoff. Reporter Barret Golding goes to visit the pit lake, and writer Edwin Dobb tells Soren the story of a pile of dead snow geese who made an ill-fated ...

Comments [19]

Comments [119]

Rene from dc

ditto on the warbler. false question: the fireman didn't die to save the warbler, he died because he had a somewhat dangerous job, setting and managing fires, and there was an accident. accidents happen. he was a part of an organization that has work to do -- protecting vulnerable species, and some of the work involved has risk.

you are correct he wouldn't have been setting the fire without the need to save the warbler (or some other species), but he could have had some other risky forest service job. he could have been logging - there is a dangerous job. Would we then say, hey we need to stop logging wood? is your house worth the life of your brother, son or sister? craziness. you are a SCIENCE show.

Aug. 08 2013 06:53 AM
Ron Thompson from Decatur, GA

Last night's Radio Lab on WABE Atlanta 90.1 FM was in part about a guy investigating climate changes by analyzing tree rings. A tree he selected in the Nevada mountains, Pinus aristata (Bristlecone Pine) variety longaeva, broke his increment borer so the Forest Ranger arranged for the tree to be cut down. When he finished counting the rings he found he had killed the "oldest living organism." He apparently was so upset he killed the oldest living thing that he changed jobs and was still upset years later when asked about it. I have a problem with the reporting.
First, while that tree may be the oldest living tree discovered, there is no proof it is the oldest living organism that existed. There are various of candidates including a giant fungi. The tree was one of thousands of Bristlecone Pines growing in Nevada. There may be hundreds of other Bristlecone Pine trees older than it. Keep in mind that the researcher selected the tree because it looked old. He had no clue how old it was. Presumably that applies to the many other still growing pines trees in the area. Looking at a tree and estimating it ages is a bit like determining the mystery from reading a book cover. Unless you cut down all the other Bristlecone Pines and count their rings you will not be able to determine which was the oldest tree. Second, the Forest Service may not have actually killed it. In the late 60s I visited the White Mountains of Nevada to see the Pinus Aristata. At that time the Forest would not identify what it felt was the oldest living tree in order to protect it from the public. I assume they are doing the same today. Also keep in mind that lots o f plants grow back after being cut down or apparently killed. The American Chestnut has been wiped out by the Chestnut Blight but the root stocks keep sending up shoots that grow into trees, which are later killed by the blight again but the tree and root system survive. This pine even without its trunk and foliage may have send up new shoots and is still alive. All plants must have well developed root systems to survive. This tree survived over 4,000 years for a reason. I wouldn't count it out just yet.

Jul. 08 2013 05:07 PM
TJ from Nashville

Great episode guys.

Completely justified snicker during "Prometheus.". Some listeners must not understand the "human folly" theme here. The act was so ridiculously horrible. Southwest Air would ask, "wanna get away?"

This episode reminds me of a story heard in King Salmon, Alaska. A pod of Beluga had shown up in the Naknek river right in town and were eating lots of salmon which, of course, support the huge economy of sports anglers. So wildlife officers decided to frighten the whales back to the Berring Sea (16 miles away) by broadcasting Orka (nemesis of the Beluga) noises into the water. Instead, the noises called in a group of real Orkas which proceeded to massacre the Beluga right in front of the astonished townspeople and embarrassed wildlife officials. Dark, tragic, absurd, hilarious. Ain't we something?

Jul. 08 2013 02:29 AM
chris from ATL

So what's the story on the incidence of autism in this great ongoing experiment so many Lancet faithful parents have undertaken with their own children as the experiment's unactivated subjects?

Everyone dings the Lancet MMR paper, but what about its resultant 15 year (and counting) experiment? Sure the big experiment has produced measles, mumps and surely even some rubella, and the media talks that angle into the ground, but do the experiment's subjects have autism at the same rate as vaccinated children?

If so, the experimenting parents could be told with empirical data *they* generated, "look, you experimented on your children, and your experiment failed. Your unactivated children have autism at the same rate as the vaccinated population."

Perhaps then, convinced by their own data, these parents might go get their children vaccinated and this MMR/autism internet myth could finally be put to bed?

Unactivated? Whaaaaat? That's not what I typed. I think Microsoft is in on the vaccination conspiracy!

Jul. 08 2013 01:13 AM
Matt Harmon

while listening to your show about the world's oldest organism/tree i realized you had made a mistake, it is not a bristlecone pine name prometheus but a quaking aspin root system named pando. although no single tree is over 200 years old its root system is estimated to be over 80,000 years old making it if not the longest living tree, the longest living organism

http://www.dailygalaxy.com/my_weblog/2010/08/the-pando-worlds-oldest-organism-80000-or-800000-years-old.html

Jul. 08 2013 01:13 AM
Helene

I am still listening to the show in Southern Arizona. I am very curious about where in the Delaware Water Gap the warbler story occurred."The town" is mentioned a few times but never named. I grew up near (north east of) Port Jervis but I think that is not the town yo are talking about. What town was it? Thank you.

Jul. 07 2013 04:50 PM
Don

The two male commentators' cluelessly insensitive laughter at the killing and death of "the oldest living" fellow organism on the planet offended me deeply. There is no place in an NPR sponsored program for such an attitude (ignorantly based elitist callus condescension). If this mentality continues on RadioLab, the program or commentators should be immediately dropped by all of it's sponsors.

Jul. 07 2013 03:02 PM
Miranda

The segment on the the warbler reminded me of the changeling in the old folktales/Grimm era stories! Very interesting.

Jul. 06 2013 07:44 PM
Jack McFarley from Walla Walla, Wa.

"Clockwork Orange" clued me in & prompted me to take a closer look initially. My dad was stationed at Atsugi NAS, Japan in "59 in the Army. He had been in a Concentration Camp previously and had schizophrenia and PTSD pretty bad. Yeah, his brain was really scrambled. Lee Harvey Oswald was there in the Marines same time. I suggest you read "Atsugi Assassins" by H.E. Jensen. From what I've seen since then the Government has made
great strides. "Eyes Wide Shut" appears to be a sketch about Project Monarch. That's what we get if we want government by Ruling Elites....

Jul. 06 2013 03:52 PM
Brian

Mr. Curry did not have the misfortune to cut down the oldest known tree, he had the exceedingly poor judgement and selfishness to kill the oldest known tree. His exile to salt flats was an extremely lenient self-punishment.

Jul. 06 2013 03:29 PM
ewastud from O'ahu, Hawai'i

The take given by Ted Kaczynski's brother, David, and many others, is that the MK Ultra program in which Ted participated unwittingly interfered with the young man's normal psychological development and warped Ted's perspective on the world. It seems David and other observers are not very well informed about the MK Ultra program and what its main objectives apparently were, at least according to John Marks, a former State Department employee who researched and wrote the book, The Search for the Manchurian Candidate. The purpose of the program was supposedly to create people who could be programmed to kill at the command of others without the killer's conscious knowledge and control. The CIA's primary instruments to try to achieve these aims seem to have been drugs such as LSD, hypnosis, and other forms of psychological manipulation and torture. The 1960's film with Frank Sinatra, Angela Lansbury and Laurence Harvey, and the 2004 re-make with Denzel Washington and Meryl Streep, were dramatizations of what the MK Ultra program hoped to achieve. Since most, if not all, of the CIA files regarding the program were destroyed in the early 1960's, it is difficult to tell to what degree the Agency succeeded, but according to informants of Marks's book, they were very close to it, if not entirely successful. According to my recollection of the book, an Agency informant boasted that they were at the very least able to program a decoy "patsy," if not an actual assassin. Robert Kennedy's convicted killer, Sirhan, is suspected by many of being such a mind-controlled decoy in an MK Ultra program assassination scheme, and there is substantial evidence to support this.

Kaczynski's actual culpability and responsibility for the string of terroristic murders he was charged and convicted of seem much in some doubt to me, given the deeper background about the MK Ultra program.

Jul. 06 2013 02:39 PM
Jen Mazza from Westchester, New York

I was so happy to hear your story on the Kirtland's Warbler. I spent a summer working with the Forest Service in Mio, leading the warbler tour every morning, and helping with the census and the data it produced. I just wanted to say that it's easy to focus on one species, but in fact the whole ecosystem is dependent on fire. The public face of the jack pine ecosystem is the Kirtland's warbler, but there are many plant and animal species that depend on frequent burning to thrive. It is difficult to estimate the value of one species - but even more difficult to estimate the value of the diversity supported by the ecosystem it inhabits.

Jul. 06 2013 01:11 PM
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Nov. 18 2012 02:56 AM
Attenbourgh

(related to this episode's theme) I'd love to hear a RadioLab on the history/origin of California's Salton Sea.

Nov. 10 2012 07:08 PM
Sloppy Boggins from Toronto

Too bad that Mr Curry did not live long enough to see the discovery of a much older tree. A tree in Sweden near the Norwegian border was found to be nearly 10,000 years old. Samples from it's root system provided the evidence without need to cut in down. It still lives.

Mar. 31 2012 03:51 PM
Heather from NYC

The revelation about the yeast that came from the geese brought sudden tears to my eyes. Not the first time this has happened while listening to your podcast. The way you weave science with poetry and wonder never ceases to astound me.

Nov. 01 2011 01:38 PM
Jonathan from America

I feel bad for the tree guy. But one thing that wasn't addressed is how can you age a tree without cutting it to count the rings? And furthermore, if conditions were just so to allow this tree to live for 5,000 years, might not nearby trees also have similarly long lives?

Oct. 08 2011 11:35 AM
Joao

Following-up on the headline oopses at the beginning of the show: When Enzo Ferrari died in 1998 , CNN reported it and mentioned that Ferrari automobiles could cost as much as 40,000 dollars. The problem is that at the time the cheapest Ferrari cost over $100,000, so it was obvious that the obituary had been written many years earlier. CNN issued an apology the next day.

Oct. 04 2011 01:49 PM
Bret Sorkness from NYC

The underground forest in Pretoria, South Africa is made up of trees over 12,000 years old. There are 12,000 year old plants too - the Mojave Yucca, in CA.

Additionally, the Pando Tree, a clonal colony of a single male Quaking Aspen, and is at least 80,000 years old. It is also the heaviest known organism.

Reference
http://www.ted.com/talks/rachel_sussman_the_world_s_oldest_living_things.html
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pando_%28tree%29

Jul. 02 2011 02:38 PM
Soren Wheeler

Caitlin,
At the time of the interview, the Stierle's had not yet published the paper on the goose poop microbe, so they couldn't even tell me the name. That might've changed since we broadcast the story. But I haven't seen anything on it.
Soren

Jun. 25 2011 07:29 PM

i dont understand human is always trying to be involved in evolution and change things that they think that is right , which is stupid and unnatural.
just let the flow flow guys just let the nature flow
i love radiolab

Jun. 15 2011 11:35 AM
Caitlin from Louisiana

Can anyone provide me a reference to the Stierle microbe that is capable of sorbing all these metals from the acid lake? I am helping write a paper on acid mine drainage and microorganisms. I want this reference but can't find anything specific!

May. 11 2011 05:15 PM
George from London, U.K

Does anyone know the name of the track that starts playing at 37min34sec? I've heard it before on Ultima Thule podcasts, but can't remember which one (and there are hundreds, each one an hour and a half long).

Would be great if Radiolab could give a soundtrack listing for each program. I often discover new music through soundtrack listings :)

Feb. 22 2011 05:34 PM
John

To all those complaining that the Bristlecone pine that was cut down was not the oldest living thing: at the time it was cut down, it was thought to be. The other examples mentioned are more recent discoveries.

Feb. 21 2011 07:11 AM
Judy from Oregon

Dear J.A. & R.C.,

I'm wondering what our human-ape missing link would have looked like, a creature that pre-dated ardipithicus. What sort of bones (fossils) are paleoanthropologists looking for?

Feb. 19 2011 10:20 AM
anne

I was required to listen to this installment for a class. This episode blew my mind! I'm hooked!

Jan. 22 2011 06:25 PM
Emily Anne Beauvais from Chicago

My last name is Beauvais, and spell check always wants to insist that it is 'Beavers'.

Dec. 31 2010 05:06 AM
Austin J. Pratt from Reno, (western) Nevada

Wonderful show, Radiolab. I wanted to clarify that Wheeler Peak is in Eastern Nevada; the story says that the Bristlecone Pines on the mountain are in Western Nevada. Oops!

Dec. 01 2010 09:51 AM
Mark

Another song request. The piece that plays from 51:15 to 51:30 (very brief I know). I tried Shazam but to no avail with a clip that short and obscured by overlaid audio. Any help would be greatly appreciated, until Radiolab start properly crediting all the music they use in each show.

Nov. 30 2010 10:38 AM
Jim Smith from Boulder, Colorado

Regarding your Oops program....I had an interesting "Cupertino" effect on a police report that I read. The word "taser" would auto-correct to "taster". The report would read....."I informed the suspect that should he continue to resist I would be forced to "taste" him. The suspect continued to resist, and I removed my "taster" from its holster, warning him again. The suspect resisted more and I "tasted" him....."

You get the picture.

Nov. 15 2010 07:27 PM
Jason from Austin, TX

Wow, all these comments about the warbler story.... Get a grip folks! If you can't understand what I mean, well, don't worry about it :-)

Nov. 04 2010 01:25 PM
David Rivo from Flushing, NY

One of the best ever. Beautifully produced. Thank you!

Oct. 11 2010 06:47 PM
Ryan Wiancko from Canada

In regards to the tree segment here it appears that the claim that this is the worlds oldest living organism seems to be a little bit off. It seems that this isn't even the oldest tree, let alone the oldest organism. There was a TED talk about this a few weeks back to check out a book project that was done on this subject: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Oa82WNk0mis

Oct. 09 2010 08:48 PM
Maryah from Dayton, NJ

It is disturbing to see how many people have condemned Harry Murray as having "created the unabomber". While I do not condone such "psychological experiments", I hardly think they were the cause of one student "going off the edge". The main fact I took away from the first story was that Kascinsky was UNUSUAL from all the other students because of his lone behaviour and his extreme physiological response to the experiment. I agree with Mr. Philipp who was an actual student in Murray's class. I think the experiment was more an indicator that Kacsinsky was abnormal than the cause of his abnormality.

Sep. 29 2010 07:22 PM
carrie from durham, nc

I LOVED "oops." Especially the last story--just a testament to the awesomeness that is our earth.

and, I think your format is incredible. I love the interjections and the use of music. THANK YOU!

Sep. 20 2010 02:25 PM
Jesse from Louisiana

Oops was a great show! Your piece about the death of Prometheus was slightly misleading. The tree is/was possibly the oldest tree/organism known on Earth. Other Bristle Cone pines have been found that are possibly older than Prometheus. I'm not sure if this counts, but the oldest organism is a tree colony in Sweeden.
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/7353357.stm

Sep. 10 2010 05:21 PM
Mic

Warbler vs Kaczynski gut-wrench comparisons are, as William Shakespeare writ, odorous.

I thank you.

Sep. 10 2010 09:39 AM
Lina

I loved "Oops", but I, too, like "Christopher" was rather amazed to find all the chatter about the warbler segment & almost none about the (obvious and horrific) link from totally unethical experiments on students to what happened to Ted Kaczynski. Of course he was a psychological problem waiting to "go off" -- but that doesn't excuse the mind games that were played on these students. Thankfully, experiments like these are no longer possible due to institutional review board (IRB) guidelines & specific regulations by the Office for Human Research Protections.
The post who claimed he wasn't hurt by this -- well --- Lucky You. Seriously.

Sep. 08 2010 10:40 AM
Emily

The Kirtland's Warbler: I used to be an environmental educator for AuSable Institute in Northern Michigan. I had also taken a slew of field ecology classes there and our class paid a visit to Mayo to observe the habitat management.

A few interesting details about this habitat management: a ideal height of the Jack Pines is around 8 ft. That's where the Kirtlands will build their nests. The cowbird cages are horrific: cowbird are an amazing species with the most absurd vocal range known to North American birds, and they're gregarious which means they see a few of their own congregating and they're quick to join them. The cages on the managed habitat take advantage of this behavior; they enter the cages to say hello, they 're trapped and then the Forest Service technician breaks its neck (or sternum) with a set of pliers. I was lucky enough to witness this monstrosity, and I left feeling unsure of my fervency for fragile species and more respect for those that have dynamically adapted to the changing world.

Aug. 09 2010 12:46 PM
John Philipp

I loved the "Oops" episode but I might suggest when you do a story like your first one hear about Harry Murray and the Unabomber, you might check with the Murray people at Harvard first to double-check the details.

I was a student in those experiments and do remember when the guy tried to get you angry but I think a lot of your facts are wrong. This was part of a 10-year study (involving 3 sets of students for 3 years each). There were many experiments involved besides the one mentioned, almost all were intriguing and lead to some interesting theories involving short and long-term memory. I still remember exactly what the guy criticized me about some 50 years later. I know because the Murray people contact us every 5 years and ask us to write down what we still remember.
Harry was a brilliant psychologist and a wonderful guy. We often were invited to his home for dinner and conversation.
I'd say if that experience pushed the Unabomber over the edge, he was just an psychological accident waiting to happen. An argument with a classmate or a romantic rejection might have pushed him over as well.

Aug. 06 2010 02:58 PM
DS

I also would like to find out what the drone piece of music was at ~25:00. I heard it in my car with the sound cranked and -- wow!

Aug. 05 2010 02:44 AM
Linda

Wow, I enjoy every single episode and I have enjoyed reading the comments to this one :-) Thanks for doing what you are doing. I just have maybe one question for the "discussion" - regarding the warbler - when I listened to the story, I couldn't stop thinking that if there were no people around trying to save the bird in the first place, it would become extinct because of the other bird - just as many other species before - as a result of natural selection :-). As I am no native speaker of English, I had to look up what exactly a "warbler" is... thanks for broadening my vocabulary! :-)

Aug. 02 2010 01:38 PM
jtalle

I'd like to see a spot on the blog which lists the different music used in each episode.

While it's nice to see the responses here, I still don't see anyone asking about the track which starts at 25:00 - the electronic droning.

Anyone have a source for that clip?

Jul. 31 2010 02:12 PM
JDL

correction: athiest --&gt; atheist

Jul. 30 2010 03:35 PM
JDL

This is a free country, and everyone is entitled to their opinion, but comments that add nothing to the conversation other than "God does not exist" or something to that effect, strikes me as unproductive trolling.

Can everyone just agree to disagree about the existence of God, or at least debate it elsewhere where the context makes more sense?

It's RadioLab, not AthiestLab.

Jul. 30 2010 03:34 PM
MT

If anyone's interested, the song playing at around 20:37 (with the woman singing) is Rothko Chapel 4 by Morton Feldman. Purchase it here:

http://www.amazon.com/Rothko-Chapel-Morton-Feldman/dp/B000000R2Z/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&amp;s=music&amp;qid=1280459461&amp;sr=1-1

Thank you Radiolab for choosing such beguiling and beautiful music in your show!

Jul. 29 2010 11:11 PM
Lev

The section on Warblers really made me angry. This is a great example of government waste projects. This money could have gone towards cancer research or construction projects...whatever. How can anybody justify this kind of insanity when there are only a handful of people that want this bird around? They should be the ones paying for this out of their own pocket. Roosevelt would have never approved of this sort of thing. Youve gotta realize that animals are amazingly selfish things and this bird would push out other birds if there were just more pines for it to live on. Humans are an important part of this earth and it doesnt make sense to focus our energy on every single creature going extinct. There will always be extinctions, but also new species (as the next segment shows). Should we destroy the new species because they were a result of human intervention?
People who think that we should not change the earth because it is not natural are seriously diseased. We need to round them up and put them on a remote island so they can live without technology and eat berries.

Jul. 27 2010 02:45 PM
MT

Does anyone know the haunting music at 20:37? It floored me.

Jul. 26 2010 07:29 PM
cbd

hey you people at radiolab, why do you seem to think that there is a ' God '? .....there is No ' God ', just empty space above the the earth. There may have been a person called Jesus, but that' s about it. Also why do some people say to others....' Go to Hell '? there is no ' Hell '....just the center of the earth with a great big fireball. Also ' heaven '? there is no such place....just empty space and a whole lot of clouds of various shapes and sizes. Come on people, get a grip and join the reality that there is in this life.

Jul. 24 2010 04:49 PM
c monster

me like show

Jul. 23 2010 10:06 PM
M

You ROCK, Mateo. Thank you!!

Jul. 23 2010 03:18 PM
Mateo

The music is on Tipsy's album titled Trip Tease.

The song is called "Oops!"

Jul. 22 2010 09:55 PM
M

Anyone figure out what the music is at 47:47? Please post, thanks!

Jul. 20 2010 02:23 PM
Trimble

Wow, so everyone wants to debate about the warbler story and whether it was framed appropriately and almost no one has a comment about the Kaczynski story?

I mean, the Kaczynski story totally changes how one might preceive him, from inexplicable crazy person and terrorist, to the product of our how stupidity and hysteria about Communism in the 1950s. It's like an allegory and warning about how we tend to create our own enemies (and very relevant to the current era of so called Islamic extremism, in which we imagine this extremism has nothing to do with our own actions in the world, what with our greed for oil and wars and torture and black sites).

I just don't get people. The warbler story was interesting, but ultimately not that important. The Kaczynski story is relevant to our whole naive political conception of ourselves as a country.

I guess it's just more comforting to believe that this crazy people want to hurt us for no reason at all, whether it's Kaczynski or people from other parts of the world.

Jul. 20 2010 05:37 AM
Rebecca

No no, these episodes in their entirety, including Oops, are pure brilliance! I applaud this episode (like all the others) for fantastic production and for making research sound so appealing. In addition, I say the personalities of these fine gentlemen journalists, Jad and Robert, make the content much more flavorful.

Jul. 18 2010 09:35 PM
Andrea

RE: Michael

Jad and Robert do laugh after the tree episode (~22:08). And no, as journalists I don't expect them to break down and cry (despite the devastating consequences they reported) but as Stephanie and Christian said, they came off as being immature, unlike what most serious reporters strive towards.

That being said, I loved the stories but just wish Jad and Robert wouldn't interject so much.

Jul. 18 2010 06:49 PM
Vegan

Yet another request for the lounge-y song at 47:47. So cool! Thanks!

Jul. 18 2010 12:05 AM
Christian Anthony

I am a huge fan of Radiolab, but after listening to this podcast I was interested if anyone shared my reaction. Stephanie was the only person who did.

Just by titling a segment 'Oops' does not mean that it gives Jad and Robert license to laugh like school kids at every story. Professor Murray received the lifetime achievement from the American Psychological Foundation for psychologically torturing students? Are you kidding me? This guy should have been put in jail. Oops.

Jul. 17 2010 05:50 PM
Shalaco

What is that hopping song that comes on after the warbler segment at 47:47?

Jul. 17 2010 03:12 PM
Ryan Wilson

There was a much older tree (9,550 years old) found in Sweden a couple years ago. It is a Spruce. Just google oldest tree in the world and you'll get it right away.

Jul. 16 2010 10:56 AM
Teresa

"quit killing birds to save another kind"

The thing about cowbirds is that the reason they're so common, and the reason they live near the warblers and pose such a danger to them, is that humans have interfered with the habitats. Cowbirds like to live near open spaces such as fields (or suburbs), and they don't venture into forests such as the ones the warblers live in unless the forest is "fractured," by roads or other human-made clearings. While it does seem unfair, killing one bird to save another, the fact that the cowbirds are there is not a part of "nature", it's just another consequence of humans' effect on the environment.

Jul. 16 2010 10:16 AM
Jessica

I feel the same as the others about the warbler story...my opinion is that we should let things be and let nature run its course. quit killing birds to save another kind as well as stop taking over habitats to build more roads/houses/malls/etc. live simply and minimize the impact on the earth. kids can see the extinct species photographed in books.

also, if the oldest tree was found in a forest, wouldn't the trees around it be roughly the same age? i can't see how it could possibly be true that this poor guy killed the actual oldest tree. i feel bad he carried around that guilt for the rest of his life.

and the story about Ted and his troubled college experience is so important to get out to people. our experiences shape who we become and our words have incredible weight and impact on others. his later actions are something we should come to expect from people who are treated as he was. colton harris-moore is a current example. a troubled childhood = a troubled (and often criminal) adulthood. as Sir Thomas More said in Utopia, "For if you suffer your people to be ill-educated, and their manners to be corrupted from their infancy, and then punish them for those crimes to which their first education disposed them, what else is to be concluded from this, but that you first make thieves and then punish them." i certainly don't condone their actions, but i do think more people need to realize the neglect and abuse of our children leads to the kind of horrendous events we are witnessing in our world today.

Love the show guys! keep 'em coming!

Jul. 15 2010 10:25 PM
Chris Kelly

Lulu Miller's piece about the "Warbler" is one of the best pieces of radio I have ever heard. Amazing, funny, and surprising story telling.

Jul. 15 2010 01:47 AM
taghag

loved this episode!

Jul. 13 2010 04:21 PM
GavinB

I have a deep sympathy for Ted Kaczynski. He is my hero.

Jul. 13 2010 08:52 AM
Pat Walters

@ Bebarce: That is hilarious. Thanks for sharing!

Jul. 12 2010 11:47 PM
Bebarce

I've worked in a School System as a Network Administrator for a long time. At one point, we allowed a teacher access to control all her student folders by giving her access to "all student folders". This was a big oops.

Shortly after, the teacher walked into our room and declared that she solved a problem that we (the tech department) has never fixed. She rid the school of all illegal mp3's.

When asked how she did it, she explained that she did a search on the folder for the term "mp3" highlighted, and deleted the offending material.

As soon as the words left her mouth, another teacher burst into the room exclaiming that all the students marking period three folders have gone missing.

Yep. All their mp3 folders.

Jul. 12 2010 11:02 AM
Pat Walters

@ Steven: You're right on. There definitely COULD be an older treat out there (and certainly an older organism). Still, the one Don cut down was the oldest organism ever DISCOVERED. Thanks for commenting. And please keep listening!

Jul. 11 2010 12:13 PM
Steven

The oldest tree? Are you really certain of this? The guy picks a tree after a few minutes, and ends up cutting it down - what are the chances that there are not some other trees which are older?

I do feel bad about the tree (and bad about the backlash Don Curry had to endure), but all we can say it this was the oldest tree ever cut down for research. We really don't know if it was the oldest living thing, let alone the oldest tree on the planet.

Jul. 11 2010 10:56 AM
Michael

Stephanie, get a grip. Empathy? What are they supposed to do? Break down crying for something that happened over a decade ago? All journalism requires some degree of detachment don't you think? I listened to this episode twice. I don't remember anyone laughing out loud about any of the stories. I believe the title "Oops" was done out of a sense of irony ...a purposeful understatement... because none of these stories were about trivial things.

Jul. 10 2010 03:10 PM
Stephanie

I am a huge Radiolab fan.

But, for the first time, I felt utterly annoyed at the lack of empathy from Jad and Robert. Oh, haha, the man was tormented by his professor. LOL, the oldest tree was killed, and all for a drill bit, while the researcher gets heckled for the rest of life?! Hysterical! A man died for defending something he believed it?! I can't get enough! Dead geese and poisoned groundwater?!

Oh boy...

Jul. 09 2010 04:20 PM
Fernando

So this segment is really about chaos-theory, right? You know, the nature of which denotes that one can never be certain of the outcome of an action due to the innumerable—perhaps even infinite—degree of variables involved in a complex system such as our universe.

Jurassic Park anyone? ;)

Jul. 09 2010 03:31 PM
Gabe

The oops with the cupertino effect reminds me of the beginning of the Philip K Dick novel Galactic Pot Healer, where translation will always be a problem we face in computers.

Jul. 08 2010 03:56 PM
corndog

Fresno mention! Always love to see that.

Jul. 08 2010 03:54 PM
peeviewonder

Regarding the Chicago Tribune's "oops" -they sure have a lot of regular oopses. I don't know who's doing the proofreading over there, but they need to step it up. Several weeks ago there was an editorial containing the name "Obama Bin Laden". Oops indeed.

Jul. 08 2010 03:07 PM
Sami

Does anyone know the tune following the Warbler piece and preceeding the acid mine waste lake piece?

Jul. 07 2010 09:02 PM
Markman

At least they got his name right this time: http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE6622I420100703

Jul. 07 2010 07:19 PM
Nathan

The only bit I didn't like is the false choice between the Forest Service employee and a bird species. Control burns are set in national forests across the country for a lot of different reasons, and for the most part don't kill anyone. An accidental death is different from a deliberate sacrifice.

Jul. 07 2010 05:59 PM
Keegan Allen

This may have been the best radio lab episode ever. Certainly one of the best that I have ever heard.

Jul. 07 2010 02:32 PM
Dan Harlow

Great episode and as always, thank you for Radiolab.

While I can see the point some people have made about the Warbler segment being a "false choice" concerning the fireman, I think this segment requires one to read into it a bit more.

The bird also had no choice that it was threatened (and no, I'm not comparing a human life to that of a bird, I'm just illustrating the analogy). Because of human encroachment on its habitat the species nearly died out through no fault of its own.

The fireman thus represents the human aspect of dying through no fault of his own; he was merely doing his job and not sacrificing his life to save the bird even though he knew quite well why he was there taking part in the controlled burn.

In short, both the loss of a human life and that of a species (nearly, anyway) were in a way senseless, tragic and came about because of the carelessness of someone else.

Remember, the final part of the segment dealt with the fireman's family who are the survivors that will live on and carry his memory. They are well juxtaposed to the bird watchers at the beginning who are wanting to see a rare species (many of whom had never seen the bird before) which illustrates how precious and rare life (an individual and a species) is and how there is always someone (a family or a bird watching community) who will be left behind to carry on the memory.

For me, this segment requires more effort on behalf of the listener to glean out the nuances of the story and it was nice that Jad and Robert just let the story play out without interjecting at those key, thought provoking moments.

Someone above compared this episode to a "This American Life" episode, and I agree since at least the Warbler segment required a less Radiolab approach than what we are used to.

All in all, this was one of the best Radiolab episodes yet.

Jul. 06 2010 11:01 PM
Erica K.T.

I am a long time listener to RadioLab and enjoyed this podcast very much. I was so excited when I realized you were going to talk about Don Curry and his unfortunate research mistake. Don was my professor at the University of Utah in the late 1990's. He was, by far, the best professor I had. He was truly a brilliant man with nothing but a kind heart. I know cutting down that tree was, as you said, something that followed him for his entire life. He didn't take it lightly nor did he boast it. Don was in inspiration to all of his students, getting into one of his field classes was such a treat. I was lucky enough to tromp around Utah/Nevada/California with him as an undergrad. He want to go on &amp; on about what a great person he was but will stop. I just want to defend him in since he is no longer here to defend himself. I don't have an argument to defend, just a defense of his character.
Thank you for covering this story and thank you for all of the great stories you cover.

Jul. 05 2010 02:05 PM
nancy

I have been to see the Bristlecone there on Wheeler Peak. It was an amazing feeling to be in the presence of such ancient beings. Can character be measured in a creature that doesn't share our methods of communication? I don't know. I do know that my experience of that community was different from other times with other trees.
Except for the first piece this segment could also have been called sacrifice.
Thank you for stirring us up once again.

Jul. 04 2010 09:35 PM
Michelle

Really guys (and Lulu)? Jennifer and Elizabeth pretty much summed up the way I feel about the Warbler segment. It was frustrating listening to that section. The others, I liked. Thanks for making more shows. I love Radiolab.

Jul. 03 2010 01:46 PM
Michelle

Probably shouldn't eat those muffins.

Jul. 03 2010 12:41 PM
Jennifer

While listening to this podcast I was yelling at my iPod. Really, Radiolab.

First of all, it's a bit sweeping to say that humans have a natural aversion to fire. The humans who lived in the Americas before European arrival *deliberately* set fires as a way of managing their landscape. Forestfire suppression is relatively new.

Also, as the other commenters said, in the warblers section you framed a false choice. That man didn't die so that the warblers could live. He died because the Forest Service personnel were inexperienced at proscribed burns. In the West the Forest Service (or a contractor) conducts controlled burns all the time &amp; people don't die.

And ALSO, if fire had been supressed in a forest of jack pines for over 200 years, then that forest was probably really unhealthy - choked with underbrush - and burned super hot. Which most likely a&gt; was a contributor in that man's death; b&gt; a contributor in the fire going out of control; and c&gt; ultimately good not only for the warbler but for all native species in that forest.

I expected you'd conclude that the OOPS in this case was: because the Forest Service's burn went awry, the townspeople don't trust them to run another controlled burn, and so the forest will get choked again, the ecosystem will soon be out of balance again, and we'll have learned nothing.

Jul. 02 2010 05:38 PM
Madeleine

"Epitaph of Seikelos" was a nice touch, Jad. :=)
Loved this episode.

Jul. 02 2010 04:48 PM
Madeleine

"Epitaph of Seikelos" was a nice touch, Jad. :=)

Jul. 02 2010 04:48 PM
Bubble Buster

As an avid Radiolab fan, I hate to say this, but this episode is really not up to your normal excellence standard.

1. Really nothing new, particularly interesting, nothing to learn, and only mildly amusing.

2. Opportunities to actually reach some meaningful conclusion were all missed.

3. Where's Jad's production majic? Sounds, editing, SOMETHING...?

Oh, and by the way? The episode page is marked September 3, 2010. Oops.
http://www.wnyc.org/shows/radiolab/episodes/2010/09/03
(or maybe that's when you plan to air on WNYC, but we are here now so...)

Please keep up the hard work though--I've loved the series before this episode! Don't let one oops bring you down :)

Jul. 01 2010 10:35 PM
Pat

@ Jonathan: Good point on the "other oldest creatures." The distinction is that that before it was cut down, the Prometheus tree was the oldest known INDIVIDUAL organism. The organisms on that list that are older are "clonal," meaning you end up with almost a sort of colony of individuals living on and on and on. Genetically, they're all part of one long-lived creature. But each tree is rather young, almost like the newest layer of growth on an old bristlecone pine. Hope that helps! And thanks for the feedback!

Jul. 01 2010 06:43 PM
catherine

Didn't think the killing of the oldest living organism (sic) on the planet needed to have laughter. You bad. And I agree with the other writers that the comparison of lives between a species and an individual was poorly framed. Good info unfortunately contextualized. Big big downer.

Jul. 01 2010 01:37 PM
Jobe

I recall watching the Nova episode about bristlecone pines-if I remember right they elude that older bristlecone pines (than prometheus) have been found, but their locations are not being publicly divulged. I don't recall the forest service slant in the Nova piece though.

Does anyone know the name of the music at the end of Lulu Miller's piece?

All of the Montana references in this episode are interesting.

Cheers from Missoula!

Jul. 01 2010 10:34 AM
katherine

I was intrigued by the last segment on the acid lake in Montana so I did a simple google maps search on it using the satellite function. A big purple lake appeared on the map. I suggest a google maps search for Butte, Montana, if you want a visual for this weird "lake."

Jul. 01 2010 10:00 AM
Elizabeth

I used to work for the parks service doing resource management, which was controlling non-native plant species, doing prescribed burns, and protecting endangered organisms.

First, about the man who died, while immensely sad, he didn't die just to protect a bird. When you work in a job like that, specifically with such low pay, you do it for the love of it. It's a dangerous job and you have to be in love with that life style to do it (I wasn't and now I work in finance!).

Also, when a forest doesn't burn for such a long time it gets an increased fuel load (ex. lots and lots of dead organic matter just waiting to burn up). Our abhorrence for fire and history of suppressing it is exactly why that fire burned so hot and furious. So, sorry, but you can't just blame the department of forestry for the fire, it's our fault too.

As for the little bird, I agree that if it can't adapt that perhaps it's not worth protecting; however, we change the environment around us so quickly and so dramatically that it is really impossible for anything (besides viruses and bacteria) to adapt. In which case, yes, it is our responsibility to protect it. We really don't know what ramifications it will have on our future if we keep letting these little things disappear off the face of the planet.

Lovely show Radiolab!

(Jad &amp; Robert: you should see if you can go on a prescribed burn. There are often supervised observations for civilians. It's worth seeing to understand it and the people who do it better.)

Jul. 01 2010 01:35 AM
Jonathan Hudgins

Oops! I think there is a mistake in the broadcast. It seems there are other living organisms that are purported to be older: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_long-living_organisms

Jun. 30 2010 09:31 PM
sandra

I loved the way music was used in this episode, both witty and haunting.

Jun. 30 2010 05:17 PM
Catherine

I enjoyed the show, but I was bothered by the over-simplification of a very complex issue. I am speaking in regards to the Kirtland’s Warbler segment, and the view you put forward that the only reason the Forest Service invests in prescribed burning throughout that area is to prevent the Warbler from going extinct. I found the segment to be very misleading! You conveniently ignored the fact that fire has always (with or without a warbler) been a natural part of the landscape, and that the ecosystem as a whole is healthier as a result of these burns, including the jack pine trees that make up the base of the ecosystem. Furthermore, since fire is a natural part of the landscape, eventually the land will burn, with or without our intervention. Were we not to use prescribed burns as a management tool, fuels in the forest would build up over time, and eventually burn on their own accord. The choice isn't to burn or not to burn, it's to implement a burning pattern we can live with (that isn’t too destructive to our communities)… or deal with much larger catastrophic wildfires that carry a huge potential for both the loss of life and property. I’m surprised you allowed your reporting to be so easily dominated by a single element such a multi-faceted issue. The multi-faceted nature of the situations you discuss is what I find interesting. I’m sure many listeners would agree.

Jun. 30 2010 04:05 PM
Pat

What is the point of interviewing anyone on this show? Jad and Robert just talk over the interviews most of the time. Why don’t they let anyone tell a story without having to interject every five seconds? Sure, sometimes it’s necessary to clarify something in the editing room, but a lot of times Jad is just restating what the interviewee was saying, sometimes word for word. I really like everything else about this show, but is this done to specifically annoy listeners? It seems disrespectful of the people they interview too…like they can’t speak for themselves and require some kind of moderator. Am I really the only person who feels this way?

Jun. 30 2010 02:25 PM
emily

wow... some of these comments are really disheartening. i really enjoyed this episode of radiolab.

Jun. 30 2010 02:23 PM
Fooch

Best episode I have heard in awhile.

Jun. 30 2010 01:33 PM
Dan

I have to agree with some of the above posters. I really didn't like the way the warbler discussion was framed. It's tempting to compare one man's life with the survival of a species, but again, it's a false choice.

Unfortunately, he wasn't the first or last man to die conducting a controlled (or in this case out-of-control) burn. The truth is that most forests in this country are dangerously mismanaged and pose a very serious risk to the people and wildlife that live in and around them. There will always be accidents, but we need the work of the Forest Service to mitigate centuries of misunderstanding of our forests systems. In this case, the warbler population was just one of many indicators of a seriously unhealthy ecosystem. If the forest in the story had been properly managed, it's likely that the resulting fire wouldn't have been nearly as powerful or fast-moving.

That being said, this whole episode was really quite wonderful. Scientific arguments aside, really some of the best pure story telling radiolab has done to date.

Jun. 30 2010 12:38 PM
Name

Radiolab and This American Live is hit or miss for me; somethings they have good episodes and other times they're extremely boring.

Jun. 30 2010 07:58 AM
Ken

A return to form.

Jun. 30 2010 03:10 AM
Polly

The last story floored me. Wow!

Jun. 30 2010 12:20 AM
Jody

On that note, I bet that guy who cut down the tree isn't feeling so bad right now.

Jun. 29 2010 08:49 PM
Jody

Well this one was quite timely....I bet BP is happy to know they aren't the only ones who have screwed up royally.

Jun. 29 2010 07:36 PM
Marc

Thanks for another great show! The revelation at the end of the Berkeley pit segment gave me chills.

The world is truly amazing. I think unexpected results are almost always more interesting than predictable ones. I would like to hear more stories like that one. There are obvious examples in science like Wilhelm Röntgen with X-rays or Alexander Fleming with penicillin, but I am sure there are many lesser known stories that would be interesting to explore in depth.

Keep up the great work!

Jun. 29 2010 06:14 PM
Learn Job Search

It's another job to learn here

Thank you

Jun. 29 2010 05:33 PM
Jonathan Langager

Love the show immensely.

But I was also bothered by the focus on this totally false choice between the death of the fireman and the species of warbler.

When miners die in explosions, no one asks if coal is worth the lives of all those people. They criticize mining practices.

To frame the warbler question in that way seems to cater to this odd sort of indignation people have toward environmentalism generally.

Jun. 29 2010 04:31 PM
Cody Jones

Awesome show, thanks!
Compliments to the sound design! Wow!

Jun. 29 2010 03:59 PM
Skipper

I do have to agree with Ben above about the Warbler segment: the choice between one man's life and the life of a bird species is a bit specious. I understand the question is not to be taken truly literally, particularly since the "lives" here are an individual versus a species, and presumably since the idea here is to stress the salience of the value question, but even in metaphor "Which is worth more?" is a kind of semantic trap.

Even in the most diligent and unbiased consideration of the question, one is forced to assume that the options are appropriately matched against each other in order to answer. Given that we can rarely predict the full extent of human environmental intervention (such as a fireman's death, or the extinction of a species), the question is fundamentally misguided in stating the problem in absolute terms. We risk further hubristic "Oops!" when we try and reduce a complex system to binary decisions about unrelated bits.

To be clear, I did enjoy the segment! Merely taking exception with some semantics of the moral question that came along with it.

Jun. 29 2010 03:20 PM
Greybird

@ben : amen!

I'd like to point out that protecting endangered species protects more than just those species. Protecting endangered species is really just a way to protect endangered ecosystems. Cute animals are more charismatic spokespeople than, say, a fungus or a burned up forest. The endangered species themselves are a shorthand for all the related species of plants, animals and fungus that our less cute but equally or more important to retaining biodiversity in a landscape and ecosystem... and biodiversity means health and safety for everyone, as the last segment showed us -- no snow geese: no end to the pit of acid. Maintaining biodiversity can help ensure our survival in the face of our own ignorance, our inability to engineer ourselves out of the bad situations we get ourselves into.

yes, that guy didn't trade his life for a species. He just happened to die in an accident while at work for the Forest Service. He could've died while driving home from work. His death and the bird's survival are not related. I appreciate his family's understanding. They are thoughtful people.

Jun. 29 2010 03:02 PM
BJN

I wonder if Lulu got a clue after this interview.

Jun. 29 2010 02:05 PM
Lisa

I caught an Oops in the episode. It's the Forest Service, US Forest Service or USDA Forest Service (or in Canada, the Canadian Forest Service), not the Forestry Service or Forestry.

Jun. 29 2010 01:40 PM
ben

Great Show!
One thing on the Bird portion.
the whole "Choosing between a man's life to save a bird species" question is cute, but it's false choice. The man did not "sacrifice himself" to save the species. His death was the result of incompetence on the part of the forest service, not the price that had to paid to save a species.

There is absolutely no reason why the warblers couldn't enjoy a new young tree habitat without anyone being killed. This kind of non-sense causes misunderstanding and pointless arguments.

Jun. 29 2010 01:06 PM
arkonbey

Wow. That was almost as much of a downer as a This American Life episode...

Jun. 29 2010 08:48 AM
Kris

"Oops." I made Ted Kaczynski homicidal by using him a guinea pig in my interrogation research. Man, didn't see that one going wrong-at all.
"Oops." I killed the oldest living thing on Earth, in order to get my drill bit back. My bad!
"Oops." I accidentally killed a guy by purposefully burning down the forest, in order to save a bird. It's complicated.
"Oops." I bankrupted a town, moved out, left behind a 40 million gallon poison lake, which killed everything that touched said lake. But don't worry, the lake was saved by the yeast in an infected goose anus. w00t!

I feel so bad that I couldn't stop laughing at the horribleness. Gotta run, four lumbering behemoths wearing all white are chasing me carrying a very strange jacket and a syringe.

Jun. 29 2010 07:56 AM
Skipper

Fascinating stories, especially the Berkeley Pit! That story and Lulu's story about saving a species of bird seem to indicate that we often don't know what nature will do with a change in the environment. Humanity should take a note of caution when actively trying to fix even man-made ecological disasters.

I wonder what kinds of new life are emerging right now as a result of the Gulf Oil Spill? I suspect nature is already hard at work fomenting a whole new ecology around this new noxious substrate in the ocean. It gives hope to think that despite all the life that will die because of our careless resource gathering, nature will still fill the ecological gaps with no less vigor than before. Where there's energy there's life!

Jun. 29 2010 03:20 AM
G

"Walk out in the morning and it'll be quiet"? So the natural conclusion of choosing not to try to save a single species of bird is: the inevitable destruction of all avian kind?

That's patently absurd. There will always be extinctions, and we'll always be picking and choosing which species we try to save.

(The worst part is Jad's response: "wow, that is convincing". Convincing? It's nonsense, and hearing him call it "convincing" rather than pointing out its absurdity is simply depressing.)

Jun. 29 2010 12:56 AM
William

First five minutes had me spitting up with laughter

Jun. 28 2010 10:30 PM

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